Guest Post: Denver’s auditor is right about many things; proposing only CPAs hold his office is not one of them

A CPA license is no guarantee that future auditors will address the challenges of a growing city

(Photo by GotCredit via Flickr: Creative Commons)

Late last month, Denver Auditor Tim O’Brien proposed that only CPAs should be allowed to run for the office in in the future. While he makes valid points that future city auditors should have experience in finance and performance management, Denver’s history of electing auditors with diverse backgrounds has strengthened the office. 

O’Brien has done a tremendous job in the office and was right to expand the financial auditing function at the city in order to provide good fiscal oversight of city departments, programs, contracts, and fiscal ethics. Future auditors should follow his lead on these issues and continue to strengthen these functions. As a public finance professional with nearly a decade of experience in the industry, and specific experience in performance management and overseeing hundreds of millions of public dollars, I recognize the importance of these efforts.

Future Denver auditors should predict future city needs. As our community grows, capital projects will become more frequent and require good oversight; the need to expand the construction auditing capacity of the city will become a challenge for future auditors. Technology will also play a more vital role in municipal governance, so the cybersecurity function of the office should grow as cybersecurity challenges grow- so should technological expertise in the office as the need for information technology projects become more frequent. 

Future Denver auditors should invest in recruiting a diverse staff; diversity is a strength and government finance offices have notoriously low batting averages for hiring, and retaining, diverse talent. Diversity and inclusion expand opportunities, improve outcomes, strengthen the scope of audits, and expand office talents, skills, and insights. 

Future Denver auditors should expand accessibility. Expanding opportunities to interact with the city auditor results in greater community understanding of the important role the office plays in ensuring successful local government. Community interaction also provides further insight to the auditor as they make decisions about topics areas and programmatic efforts to focus on for future audits. Expanding the use of digital government, convening roundtables, offering coffee chats, sending more frequent updates, and encouraging interaction with the auditor and staff in every Denver neighborhood would elevate the work performed by the office. 

Future Denver auditors should innovate. I have the opportunity to serve on the International Association for Public Finance Officers’ Audit Committee as well as the CAFR Committee of the Government Finance Officers Association and have a front row seat to evolving industry best practices and new developments in improving public sector audit services. Audit functions should evolve as the organization evolves by leveraging cutting-edge technology, big data analytics, and understanding emerging trends in the industry. 

Future Denver auditors should have public finance and performance management experience, but specific licensure doesn’t guarantee that future auditors will address the challenges of a growing city or lead the office in the right direction for residents of our community. It does not guarantee that the next Denver auditor is forward-thinking, committed to diversity and accessibility, and innovative. Let Denver voters choose our next auditor based on who is best ready to tackle the evolving challenges of our community, our city, and the office. 

The Colorado Independent occasionally runs guest posts from government officials, local experts and concerned citizens on a variety of topics. These posts are meant to provide diverse perspectives and do not represent the views of The Independent. To pitch a guest post, please contact or visit our submission page.

Erik Clarke is a senior public finance official who serves on several Denver nonprofit executive boards and committees, in addition to serving at the Government Finance Officers Association.


  1. There is no need for the Auditor to be a CPA. There are career employees in the Auditors Office with those skills.

  2. I favor the direction and those in opposition is because they don’t have a clue as to what it takes to become a CPA. Years of professional practical experience under the supervision of a competent CPA, education at a Master’s level and pass one of the most difficult exams in the world to get licensed plus an ethics test. Additionally, you have to maintain your license and continually get continuing education credits.
    Carlos Lobato, CPA

  3. It’s hard to supervise staff with special skills when you don’t have them. I would be hard to supervise an engineer without being and engineered. I disagree on this. I have been an auditor since 2000 and did not get my CPA until 2014. It gives you a level of skills and it does make you a better auditor.

  4. Mr. O’Brien is the only CPA in the group. I can’t believe people wouldn’t agree with him. The better manager is the better the team. Go ask Bill Bellichick.

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